Sibelius: Symphonies Nos. 5 & 7 (CD review)

Also, En Saga. Sir Colin Davis, Boston Symphony Orchestra. PentaTone Classics PTC 5186 177.

Truth to tell, I find the last few of Jean Sibelius's seven symphonies rather tiresome. They all begin sounding alike to me and repeating what the composer had already done in his first few symphonies. Frankly, I find his tone poem En Saga, included here, a far better, more meaningful, more colorful work than either the Symphony No. 5 or 7.

Of course, Sibelius would have lumped me into the category of those who simply didn't understand what he was up to. As he said, "Only a very few people in this world understand what I attempt and achieve in my symphonies. Most of them do not have a clue what it is all about."

Count me clueless.

But that's neither here nor there. The question is whether Sir Colin Davis in his stereo recordings of the works with the Boston Symphony are worthwhile interpretations, and here we must count them resounding successes. They certainly capture Sibelius's dark, forbidding, northern landscapes, his contrasts, his themes, and his variations in vivid detail. OK, maybe Davis's more-recent recordings with the London Symphony (RCA) do it even better by expanding and broadening the music further and being a tad more expressive, but these BSO interpretations (originally on Philips) will do nicely, too.

What a lot of people never realized about these Philips BSO recordings from the mid Seventies, though, is that the company miked them for potential quadraphonic playback, a technology they never eventually released to the home. Until now. PentaTone engineers have gone back to the four-channel tapes and present them on this hybrid SACD in ordinary two-channel stereo for playback on ordinary CD players and in four-channel Super Audio for multichannel systems using an SACD player. I don't have four-channel playback, but I did listen through an SACD player, finding the sound perhaps a touch clearer than from a regular Philips disc; it was hard to tell. Still, it's not as clear as Davis's later RCA recordings. Nevertheless, if you have the proper surround-sound equipment, you might want to give this disc your consideration.

JJP

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John J. Puccio

John J. Puccio

About the Author

Understand, I'm just an everyday guy reacting to something I love. And I've been doing it for a very long time, my appreciation for classical music starting with the musical excerpts on The Big John and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first recording, The 101 Strings Play the Classics, around 1956. In the late Sixties I began teaching high school English and Film Studies as well as becoming interested in hi-fi, my audio ambitions graduating me from a pair of AR-3 speakers to the Fulton J's recommended by The Stereophile's J. Gordon Holt. In the early Seventies, I began writing for a number of audio magazines, including Audio Excellence, Audio Forum, The Boston Audio Society Speaker, The American Record Guide, and from 1976 until 2008, The $ensible Sound, for which I served as Classical Music Editor.

Today, I'm retired from teaching and use a pair of bi-amped VMPS RM40s loudspeakers for my listening. In addition to writing the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (formerly DVDTown) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.

Mission Statement

It is the goal of Classical Candor to promote the enjoyment of classical music. Other forms of music come and go--minuets, waltzes, ragtime, blues, jazz, bebop, country-western, rock-'n'-roll, heavy metal, rap, and the rest--but classical music has been around for hundreds of years and will continue to be around for hundreds more. It's no accident that every major city in the world has one or more symphony orchestras.

When I was young, I heard it said that only intellectuals could appreciate classical music, that it required dedicated concentration to appreciate. Nonsense. I'm no intellectual, and I've always loved classical music. Anyone who's ever seen and enjoyed Disney's Fantasia or a Looney Tunes cartoon playing Rossini's William Tell Overture or Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 can attest to the power and joy of classical music, and that's just about everybody.

So, if Classical Candor can expand one's awareness of classical music and bring more joy to one's life, more power to it. It's done its job.

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Readers with polite, courteous, helpful letters may send them to pucciojj@gmail.com.

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa